Philosophy of Education: Grace Chambers

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Grace Chambers

Teachers should make students feel comfortable sharing aspects of their lives that may be challenging, and aspects that should be celebrated. This will help teachers to understand how to best educate each student in their class, relating content to areas that will peak their students’ interests.

My personal philosophy of education is founded on the idea of a just education -what I believe to be a just education. My idea of a just education consists of four principles: the role of the teacher, inquiry-based learning, educating about injustice, and educating for justice. My philosophy of education is developing mostly from Freire readings, in addition to conversations and experiences I have had in Milwaukee and Peru.

To begin to philosophize about education, one must decide what kind of teacher they want to be. I want to be a teacher for justice, so my philosophy was written to reflect that. The role of “the teacher” and “the student” are really interchangeable when it comes to educating. The teacher must always be a student, learning constantly about his/her/their content, in addition to being a student of their context. It is the job of the teacher to allow students to bring knowledge into the classroom from their lives, homes, and communities. This relationship creates a mutual respect between teachers and students. When the teacher has built this relationship with his/her/their students, he/she/they are able to better encourage students to engage in inquiry learning. Inquiry learning -an important pillar in my personal philosophy of education- is the best way for students to absorb information. It is structured in a way that allows students to build on their prior academic knowledge to expand new knowledge in a way that connects to their lives. But, if students are able to do most of their learning through inquiry, is it really necessary to have teachers at all? This question seems to have an obvious answer: of course, we need teachers! But, if students have access to endless knowledge just by logging on to a computer, how does the role of the teacher shift? Even though students can do most of their learning independently now, the teacher is still critical because of the relationship he/she/they have with the student. The teacher can model education, teaching students to draw on their own knowledge, making connections to other subject areas and their own lives. Additionally, the teacher should be a personal role model for students. A great teacher demonstrates healthy interpersonal relationship skills, modeling empathy, compassion, and appropriate listening skills. A great teacher is someone a student can confide in. Teachers should make students feel comfortable sharing aspects of their lives that may be challenging, and aspects that should be celebrated. This will help teachers to understand how to best educate each student in their class, relating content to areas that will peak their students’ interests.

As previously mentioned, part of the teacher’s responsibility is to create a curriculum founded on the process of inquiry learning. Inquiry learning is cited by numerous philosophers as the way to promote a just education. Inquiry learning allows students to question what they are learning rather than just absorbing information. It contrasts the banking model of education, which Paulo Freire has attributed to maintaining the cycle of oppression. He says that “It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men [and women] as adaptable, manageable beings… The more completely they accept the passive role imposed upon them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited to them.” Students who are taught using only the banking model of education will not be taught to ask questions when they are learning, and therefore will not question the world. The men and women who have changed the world were all asking questions, asking why systems work the way they do, who is benefiting from certain systems, and at whose expense are those benefits coming to those in power. A teacher who uses inquiry-based learning in his/her/their classroom will produce students who ask questions, giving them the power to disrupt cyclical oppression. Inquiry learning also comes with the flexibility to use content that students are passionate about. With banking-based teaching, students are usually taught from one text book, only interacting with one resource, narrowing their learning to only the content that is available in that one book. Inquiry gives students and teachers room to express their passions and individual knowledge. In my experiences in the field, the students that have been most engaged, most passionate, and performed the best on assessments were those who worked on inquiry-based projects. Whether it be one day’s activity, or a month-long project, students who had the opportunity explore, performed.

A teacher for justice will use the flexibility of inquiry learning to integrate learning about injustice into their curriculum. This is important for all students in all educational contexts. Students who are affected by injustice should learn why, and students who are less affected or not affected at all should learn how they are benefiting from oppression. Many teachers believe that their job is to teach the content, and nothing more. I believe that that can be the role of a teacher, but not a teacher for justice. A teacher committed to educational equity must also teach his/her/their students about systems and cultural ideologies that stand in the way of equity.

Educating privileged students about inequity, injustice, and oppression is equally -if not more- important as educating non-privileged students about the same concepts. If all students are taught using inquiry-based learning, being taught to question the world around them, that does not mean that they will know what to question. Students who come from privileged backgrounds are benefiting from inequity and are much less likely to notice the reasons why inequity exists in the first place. A teacher for justice in a privileged area must take up the additional task of teaching students about systemic oppression and cultural prejudice. Privileged students should learn about how they are benefiting from oppressive systems, this learning can be coupled with the teacher expressing compassion for those who are oppressed. Teachers can and should integrate current events into lessons, demonstrating to students how oppression affects the lives of people in their families, communities, cities, countries, or the world. Teachers can explain to students how oppression affects their lives, showing them the powerful positions they have because of their privilege. Simultaneously teaching students about their privilege and inspiring them to want to relinquish some of it. The access to knowledge can inspire students to take up ally or activist roles in conversations about injustice. Teachers can guide students to use their privilege to empower people who are oppressed. It is the beginning of dismantling inequality.

Teaching students who are not privileged about oppression, suppression, and injustice is also extremely important for a just education. Students may understand that they are not in a position of power, but they may not always know why -especially younger students. Teaching children about the history or oppressive systems will give them the knowledge and therefore the power to try to fight them. It demonstrates that you are an ally and will help students to become allies and activists if they choose to do so.

The final piece of my philosophy is all about the educational context. In Peru, we were able to observe contexts varying to either extreme. Each school and community were striving to make adaptations to what education should look like for their children. At the privileged schools we visited, faculty were using their resources to provide unique, hands-on educational opportunities for students. Whether or not all these opportunities were justice-oriented I do not know, but in my classroom, I would want them to be. Students learn the most through experience, so as many resources as the school can allot should go towards providing experiences for students that teach them the skills they need to fight injustice, rather than perpetuate the cycle. Students learning in low-income and/or less privileged areas have different educational needs than those in privileged areas. Resources in low income areas are almost always limited, so what the school can offer should match the needs and development of the community. In Peru, we saw a working-class school, and several schools in impoverished neighborhoods. In the working-class school, students’ education is focused a lot on academics and personal relationships. Teachers and students have strong relationships and the teachers were a community of support for all student. The school also did offer a few “extra” programs -like computer labs and English classes- as part of the curriculum. These programs will teach students important skills that could be used to help them get into a university or receive a scholarship. It also taught skills like sewing, and cooking. These skills give students background to go into a trade field if they choose, or at the very least become more self-sufficient in their home lives. This school modeled close to an ideal educational practice for working class schools, and the programs offered meet a diverse set of needs for young community members. Schools in low income or impoverished areas have a different set of needs as well. We saw one neighborhood create after-school programs, founded on a belief that children have a right to play. These programs blossomed to emphasize qualities in children that make productive, compassionate, kind adults. The programs focus on finding joy in play, following rules, organization, winning and losing graciously, as well as anti-drug, alcohol, and gang violence messages. Similar programs exist in Milwaukee, but making them more accessible in low-income schools, especially low-income schools in unsafe neighborhoods, should be a priority. This is another example in the shift of the allotment of resources to an appropriate and helpful program. Schools who serve students living in poverty should have after school programs that give children a space to play, and older children access to organized sports, classes, or life skills they may not be able to learn in class or at home. These are just a few examples of how resources can be used in schools with varying levels of privilege. In his essay “Pedagogy of Freedom,” Freire reflects on the importance of what is taught in different schools. Much of that theory is what mine is modeled after. Although the first three aspects of teaching for justice can remain relatively the same across curriculums (variation will come in with student demographics and resources available), teachers and schools must work together to create an educational curriculum that meets the needs of the students in the community. When students’ educational needs are met at a young age, as they grow up it will give them tools to start to break cycles of poverty and injustice.

These are the most important components of a just education that I have observed in Peru and in Milwaukee. Philosophy is not an exact science, this is especially true in educational philosophy. Theories can be taken into the field to be tested, evaluated, and re-modeled. Even after years of educational experience, a teacher will most likely not find an educational philosophy that meets the needs of every single student. Realizing this, I have made an effort to create a framework upon which I can build my philosophy as I begin teaching. bell hooks said that her theory was used as a tool to ease her “wanting to comprehend-to grasp what was happening around and within [her].” Educational theory should be used to grasp what is around the students- their schools, homes, and communities- and within you, the teacher- the passion, drive, and desire for students’ success and excellence. A combination of readings, discussions, and field experience has served as validation for the educational theory we have been discussing in class, helping me create my own theory that I hope to put into practice.

References

Freire, Paulo. “Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom Ch 2.Pdf.” Google, Google, 1996, drive.google.com/file/d/0B9K8OLyuF8_TZWNRZmF1aFhQWEE/view.

Freire, Paulo. “FREIRE, Pedagogy of the Oppressed Chapter 2.Pdf.” Google, Google, drive.google.com/file/d/0B4YrkLKx4DUzbzNrSUtSaENIdzA/view.

hooks, bell. “hooks2.Pdf.” Google, Google, 1991, drive.google.com/file/d/0B4YrkLKx4DUzQ2pROVY0MUxYeE0/view.

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